Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

(and a Lot You Never Wanted to Know)

About Phrases


Definition #1

A "phrase" is a group of words without a subject or a verb.

Examples of phrases:

of grammar books

to suffocate boring teachers

listening to jazz music


I know what you are thinking: "suffocate" and "listening" are verbs because they are action words. Wrong. Here are a couple of helpful hints.


Helpful Hint #1:

"to" followed by a verb form is not a verb.


Helpful Hint #2:

An "-ing" verb form without a helper is not a verb.


"OK," you ask, "if they aren't verbs, what are they?"

To tell you, I'll have to get in a little deeper water, so roll up your pantlegs.

"To suffocate" and "listening" are verbals, not verbs. The words sound alike, but they are much different.

Definition #2

Verbals are verb forms that function as something other than verbs. There are three kinds of verbals, gerunds, infinitives and participles.

Definition #3

A gerund is a verb form ending in "-ing" used as a noun (that is, as a subject or object).

The Gerunds (or Gerund Phrases) Are Underlined Below:

Reading is fun.

("Reading" is a verb form ending in "-ing" used as a subject.)

I love studying.

("Studying" is a verb form ending in "-ing" used as an object.)

Reading Charles Dickens' novels is fun.

("Reading Charles Dickens' novels" is a gerund phrase used as a subject. "Reading" is still the gerund.)

I love studying about semicolons.

("Studying about semicolons" is the gerund phrase used as an object. "Studying" is still the gerund.)

Definition #4

An infinitive is a verb form consisting of "to" plus the root form of a verb. Infinitives can be used as nouns, adjectives or adverbs. (In other words, they are flexible little devils and show up all the time.)

The Infinitives (or Infinitive Phrases) Are Underlined Below.

To understand grammar is my life's ambition.

("To understand grammar" is the infinitive phrase. It functions as the subject. "To understand" is the infinitive.)

My thirteen year old son aspires to be loved by girls.

("To be loved by girls" is an infinitive phrase. It functions as an object. "To be loved" is the infinitive.)

The test to be taken is downright unfair.

("To be taken" is the infinitive. It functions as an adjective because it modifies the noun "test.")

To insure social acceptance, students should shower regularly.

("To insure social acceptance" is an infinitive phrase. "To insure" is the infinitive. It functions as an adverb because it modifies the verb "should shower.")

Definition #5

A participle is a verb form ending in "-ing" or "-ed" which function as an adjective.

The Participial Phrases Below are Underlined

I fell asleep contemplating quadratic equations.

("Contemplating quadratic equations" is a participial phrase because it modifies the subject "I." The participal is "contemplating.")

A teacher armed with stale jokes bored the students.

("Armed with stale jokes" is the participial phrase. It modifies "teacher." "Armed" is the participal.)


There is no such thing as a gerund clause, an infinitive clause or a participial clause (except in the minds of confused students).

Verbals occur by themselves or in phrases.


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